It might not be easy to understand how someone could just be turning 40 years old and already have entrepreneurial experience about two-thirds his age. But this is the story of Ashish J Thakkar.
Though of Indian descent, the Thakkars moved to the United Kingdom in 1972 after Idi Amin enforced the expulsion of Asians from Uganda. Ashish was then born 1981, in Leicester city. He spent some of his childhood at Rushey Mead School as part of Belvoir S form group until his parents decided to relocate back to Africa – this time to Rwanda.
Again, they were forced to leave Rwanda after two years following the Rwandan Genocide. Older Thakkar fled with his family to Burundi, before settling in Kampala, Uganda as refugees. At the age of 14, Ashish was put in school to continue his education. As a student, the young man had already been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. He was selling computers and computer accessories to his friends and teachers in school. From here, he decided that he could have a life-long career in business.
Expectedly, his parents refused to let him. Their question was – What life is there for a teenager who drops out of school going into business? Many negotiations later, they agreed to let him start his own business on the condition that he would return to school if it did not work out. At the age of 15, in 1996, he dropped out of school and used a loan of $5,000 to start his own business.
He started a small IT shop (which would later grow to become Mara Group), in a shopping mall across the street from his father’s shop in Kampala. He began importing computer parts from weekly trips to Dubai, even desktops as well, and later started offering IT services.
The young man was so resolute in his dealings, refusing to give in to teenage distractions that might have come his way. After recording success in IT, Ashish diversified into packaging and property development, and later into manufacturing, real estate, infrastructure, asset management and agriculture. Thakkar later relocated the company headquarters to Dubai, while maintaining business operations in Africa.
In more ways than one, the family’s history of moving from one location to the other appears to have made Ashish into a street-wise and determined hustler, and these things played a role in the success of his business.
In a 2012 interview, Ashish insisted that a strong sense of perseverance and a great dose of positive thinking played a huge role in his achievements. After many years of success, the Mara Group has also added financial services, tourism and BPO services to its list of services. Mara Group employs about 11,000 people and has a presence across several African countries.
There is also Mara Phones, a part of the Mara Corporation that launched smartphone factories in Africa, which includes AfriOne smartphone factory launched in Nigeria in 2017.
Ashish remains humble in spite of his impressive achievements, as he says that all of it is still a drop in the ocean in the scheme of things. Given the early age at which Thakkar embraced entrepreneurship, it is imperative that he has learnt immense lessons in the journey…
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